Macaques in the Forest of Cedars…

Most of my travel journals are now at Daveno Travels where I am reissuing them as Director’s Cuts, with full text and previously unpublished photos. This is an excerpt from my visit to the Forest of Cedars in 2017, and a kasbah at the edge of the Western Sahara that would inspire a hat.

We depart Fez and arrive hours later in Azrou, in the heart of the Forest of Cedars. Doug tells us to start watching for monkeys, and no sooner does he say “monkey” than we see them coming down out of the trees. We pull over and park, and are soon surrounded.

These are macaques (also called Barbary Apes) – indigenous to the mountain forests of Morocco and Algeria. Only a few thousand are left in the wild, marking them as an endangered species. They are twice as big as I was expecting, and docile, except for the Leader of the Pack, which the locals point to, with a warning to keep clear.

A young guide comes up to me with a handful of broken up crackers, and says “photo” as he hands me a few pieces, and motions to me to hold out my hand and wait for the macaque to come to me.  

He snaps a few photos and then leads me to his horse who is standing next to a boulder, a convenient aid for mounting.  The guide again says “photo” and I climb up onto the horse.  He snaps a few more shots, and then grabs the reins, and starts to lead the horse into the forest.

“Oh NO!”

I am shouting for him to stop but he he continues down the path towards the forest.  After several more yards I impress upon the guide that I’m with a group and I MUST GO BACK.  He slowly turns the horse around, and Doug arrives as I dismount.  “Please find out how much that escapade just cost me, I’ll be back with my wallet.” Doug negotiates the price down from 300 dirhams ($30) to about 70 dirhams ($7). I give the guide an extra 20 dirham, which puts things right and everyone walks away happy.  

And now I know what “photo” actually means…

I wander around for a few more minutes, picking metal sequins out of the dirt that have dislodged themselves from the horse saddles. I contemplate visiting the merchant’s row but decide I shouldn’t tempt fate again today.

Well after dark, we reach Merzouga, and the Kasbah Mohayut.  My. Oh. My. Even in the dark, this mud brick oasis on the edge of the desert is very beautiful, and I cannot wait to explore it in the daylight.  I find my room and walk through a modest door and into a space that I swear is bigger than my entire apartment.  

I wake early the next morning to see the sunrise and to explore this wonderful kasbah. I photograph some Berber-inspired doors that would ultimately inspire one of my hat designs when I returned home.

I wish I could capture the sounds and smells of this place, as I sit at the edge of one of the fountain courtyards, tea in hand, incense wafting over me… above my head an iron chandelier, with palms and birds… waitstaff wearing the blue and gold caftan that the men wear here, smiling at me as they light incense in the other four corners of the courtyard.  

It is very, very hard to leave. But leave we must.  The Red Dunes await … 

Please visit Daveno Travels for additional photos of the Forest of Cedars and this delicious kasbah!

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